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Light My Fire: An illustration from 'They Call Me Mad Dog!'

Erika Lopez's Pulp Fiction

By Michelle Goldberg

The first time i was scheduled to meet erika lopez, she didn't show up. I heard from her later that day, hysterically, adorably apologetic, but I wasn't mad, because Erika Lopez is such a brilliant falling-apart-at-the-seams whirlwind neurotic that you almost can't expect her to remember such boring concrete things as dates and times. We rescheduled to meet at a coffee shop deep in the Mission on Friday night, but when I got there, it was closing. I rode my bike around the block, and when I came back, she was there, all big tits and big hair, flashing eyes and rolling hips, swinging hoop earrings and smirking grin. Needless to say, the coffee shop owner let us stay.

Lopez had just flown back from LA after an appearance on the preternaturally soothing Tom Synder's talk show to find that she'd been given a three-day eviction notice. She was relatively unfazed.

After spending just an hour with Lopez, the pulpy, absurdly melodramatic world of her amazing new book, They Call Me Mad Dog! (Simon and Schuster; $20), doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore. Mad Dog is Lopez's second illustrated novel starring Tomato Rodriguez, a half-Puerto Rican motorcycle-riding lesbian Quaker art star. She's betrayed by her tough-old-dame lover Hooter Mujer, and her manic revenge schemes land her in a "progressive" women's prison that's like Ilsa the Wicked Warden as filmed by Henry Jaglom.

"So let me take you back to the day when I was wearing a sweaty black acrylic ski mask on my face in the dead of summer, screeching around the barrio corners of San Francisco in a friend's champagne-colored Lexus 4x4, looking for a woman named Hooter Mujer/ a woman who done me wrong," Lopez writes. "Harmonica wrong. A bad, bad woman who took my hand, led me to the sapphic muff-diving waters and made me feel like I was a filling up and spilling over lezzbian. A woman who finger-fucked my aorta/ made like the Bronx and played handball with my heart."

The Russ Meyer-meets-Sylvia Plath story is salted with beautiful, hilarious va-va-voom illustrations that comment subliminally on the action. An ode to Jerry Springer, for example, is coupled with a drawing of two topless female wrestlers with '50s beauty-parlor hairdos and star-shaped pasties, titled "Aim Above Morality." With its smudgy, cheap typewriter font and scribbled out sentences, the whole book has a delightfully sleazy B-movie aesthetic. "Mad Dog's supposed to be like a woman who just got out of prison, is pacing in her basement under a 40-watt bulb, and she still hasn't wiped the ink off from when she first got fingerprinted," Lopez says.

Aside from the book's amazing visual style, the most refreshing thing about Mad Dog may be its exuberant rejection of San Francisco-style emotional maturity. After all, in our free-lovin' town, no one's supposed to cop to maniacal sexual jealousy, except maybe to their therapist. But Lopez, with her barreling, destructive passion, doesn't buy California's bland, sun-bleached healthiness.

"Jealousy is the best driving force for getting anything done and being intelligent. Don't you think? When you're mad and you're pissed and you just think of getting someone back, you get really sharp--razor sharp brilliant," Lopez says. "You see clearly, too clearly, almost as if your eyes got really big in the dark. And you can hear every noise and every little flicker. I'm trying to be like some kind of emotional Stephen King."

She continues, "I wasn't really brought up to be jealous or any of that stuff, but then I realized we try and suppress it, but it's actually there, and sometimes you have to really be trashy and really go with it. You shouldn't always know better. Sometimes, as long as you're not killing anyone or burning bunnies, I think you should be able to go with your anger and just sort of burn things up and apologize later. Otherwise you cheat yourself out of a lot of emotion. Sure, it's a lot of fantasy, you're not going to be able to do everything, but you can do a little bit. Like throwing VCRs down the stairs or burning cars," she concludes with a naughty laugh. "This high-class restrained morality, going to Scientology, forget that. Just go, man, let your hair get frizzy, sleep in your makeup and get mad in the morning and fuck at night and throw a glass against the wall. You know?"

Luckily, both Lopez and Tomato live in one of the few places in town where flavored yuppiedom hasn't wiped out such gaudy, gorgeous hysteria. She writes, "I lived in the flattest, sunny Mexican part of the city, where janitors still owned property, and their houses were painted like candy in a bowl: shiny purple, swimming-pool blue, Technicolor orange, and nah, don't worry, the trim doesn't really have to match. That's one of those urban myths, Juan. Got any navy in that can? Any canary yellow in your basement from that job over on Silver Avenue? It was a daring neighborhood, paintings on buildings, bright fruit in the gutters, and emotionally wrenching ranchera music everywhere. If you put a paper bag on your head, you would've sworn you were walking down a sidewalk made of broken hearts."

This crazy Mission neighborhood isn't the only thing that Lopez and Tomato have in common--except for the odd kidnapping and murder charge, they're pretty much the same person. Hooter's real, too. "Oh yeah, I was actually breaking up with her while I was finishing up Flaming Iguanas [Lopez's last book]. I broke up with her for cheating on me, and I would call my editor and go on these rants. I was losing it. Some guy stole my parking space and he said, 'Yeah, that's what you get for being too slow,' and I keyed his car. My editor said 'Write this stuff down,' and then we turned it into a story."

Lopez even casually mentions landing in jail for a few days after attempting revenge on a roommate. Nothing psycho, just a forged check. The roommate pressed charges. "So she got payback, but that became raw material," Lopez says.

One of the key figures in Mad Dog is Bark Flammers, owner of the champagne-colored SUV, a guy with a thing for Sumo wrestlers whom Tomato hires to be her "revenge campaign manager." Just as the owner of the closed coffee shop we're sitting in starts to seem really impatient, a champagne-colored SUV stops at the corner and Lopez darts out the door after it. "Mark! Mark Lammers!" she screams. Mark Lammers stops, and the three of us block traffic for a half-hour while he explains the annoyances of having a writer as a best friend.

"It bugs the shit out of me!" he says. "She's like Truman Capote's baby girl. She hangs out with you, she's following right along and then copying shit down. Luckily I convinced her to change my friggin name, Mark Lammers, so she says OK, Bark Flammers."

"So all the dialogue's authentic?" I ask.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" shouts Lopez.

"She took some poetic license," Lammers says.

"I just can't get that line of yours out of my head," I said: "I want hands like frying pans, thighs like ham hocks, and arms like pythons ..."

"Did you put that in there?" Lammers asks Lopez. "You bitch!"

"Didn't you read it?" I ask.

"I don't read her stuff, I can't!" he says.

"He lives it!" Lopez laughs.

"The most annoying thing with her, especially when she's writing, is that her work is her life, her life is her work. She picks up her fucking dress all the time and says, here, look at my tits, and sometimes she doesn't realize when she starts exposing other people's stuff. It's like, Oh yeah, my mother blah blah blah," Lammers tells me. "Everything with her, Miss Capote here, everything is fair game. You might end up as a character in her novel--watch out."

And, in fact, she had already told me about her mother and her mother's female lover and their couples therapy and presumably lesbian bed death. But I'm not worried--my life is far too dull to make an impression on planet Erika. And besides, there are far worse things in life than ending up a character in such lunatic, ebulliently wicked urban soap operas. Though Mad Dog is subtitled "A Story for Bitter, Lonely People," there's actually something really generous about it. No matter how shameful, disgusting or humiliating her characters' escapades are, when Lopez puts them on paper, they turn into charmingly twisted and sordidly romantic adventures, and all the misery and trouble seems worthwhile.

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From the January 18, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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